Afghanistan Election Results Finalized
KABUL, Afghanistan - The results from landmark legislative elections held in Afghanistan in September were finalized Saturday, ending eight weeks of counting that has been slowed by inquiries into widespread fraud, a spokesman for the election organizers said.
Nearly all winning candidates ran as independents, making it difficult to determine where power will lie in the new legislature. But Western diplomats and other political analysts said it appears that supporters of President Hamid Karzai are in the majority.
Results from the polls were initially scheduled to be released last month, but they have been repeatedly delayed.
"We have now finalized all the results," said Baheen Sultan Ahmad, a spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body.
Karzai calls on Taliban to join reconciliation process
Sat Nov 12, 5:20 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday urged Taliban fighters and other militants to abandon their insurgency against his government and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and join a national reconciliation process.
This year has been one of the worst for violence in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power by U.S.-backed forces four years ago.
Some 1,100 people have died, including more than 50 U.S. military personnel, so far in 2005.
"Our expectation from all of our countrymen, whether outside Afghanistan or at home... is to join this programme of peace... and give up the destruction of their country," Karzai told a conference on reconciliation broadcast live on state-television.
Afghanistan held parliamentary elections in September, a year after Karzai won a presidential election that marked a first step toward establishing democracy in the turbulent country.
Riven by tribal and ethnic divides, the main common denominator in Afghan nation is Islam.
And many of the majority Pashtuns share the same conservative views as Taliban fighters, whose support for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda triggered the U.S. attack and subsequent deployment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Seen as a guarantor of international financial support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan after a quarter century of conflict, Karzai said making peace with the insurgents was vital to the country's development and reconstruction.
Handpicked by Washington as an interim leader after the Taliban were driven from Kabul in late 2001, Karzai first held out an olive branch to the Islamist militants two years ago.
But, so far, only a handful of middle ranking Taliban officials have joined the mainstream.
The most senior of them is Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, a former Taliban foreign minister who surrendered to U.S.-led forces and is now free after spending years in U.S. custody.
Muttawakil, along with several other former Taliban figures participated in Saturday's conference together with cabinet ministers and provincial officials.
A deputy governor from a southern province was gunned down in a suspected Taliban ambush while traveling to Kabul on Thursday for the conference, a security official said.
Former President Sibghatullah Mojadeddi said the insurgency along Afghanistan's southern flank was due to foreign interference, in a veiled reference to Pakistan where many Taliban fighters took refuge after their defeat.
Now head of the Peace Commission, Mojadeddi said he would push for the release of hundreds more Taliban fighters. He said the commission had helped secure the release of some 275 from U.S. custody in Afghanistan and eight others from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay this year.
Militants Slay Two Senior Afghan Leaders
Sat Nov 12, 2:24 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Militants pulled a deputy provincial governor from his car and shot him dead and killed a former district chief while he prayed in a mosque in the latest attacks on supporters of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, officials said Saturday.
Namatullah Yusuf Zai, southern Nimroz province's deputy governor, was driving to Kabul on Friday to attend a meeting on peace and reconciliation when militants stopped his car and killed him, Gov. Ghulam Dustaqir said. He blamed Taliban rebels for the attack.
Hours later, two insurgents walked into a mosque in neighboring Helmand province and shot a former local district chief in the head while he prayed, Gov. Sher Mohammed Aghunzada.
The militants fled and police launched a massive manhunt for them. Twelve suspects have been arrested, he said.
The attacks came just days after Aghunzada survived an attempted suicide bombing outside his office.
Taliban-led rebels have stepped up attacks recently on prominent pro-Karzai officials, religious leaders and others as part of their campaign to destabilize the region and undermine the country's U.S.-backed government.
Almost 1,500 people have been killed this year in rebel violence, more than any year since the Taliban's ousted in 2001.
Taliban attack police in Afghanistan
Saturday November 12, 2:22 PM
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents killed at least one police officer and wounded four others in an attack on their headquarters in southeastern Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday.
The overnight raid in Khost province was the latest series of attacks by Taliban fighters in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan during the past few days.
The police headquarters was partially destroyed during a firefight involving light and heavy weapons, officials said.
They did not know whether the attackers suffered any casualties.
On Thursday, Taliban fighters were suspected of shooting dead a deputy provincial governor of Nimroz province.
He was ambushed in Zabul province and had been on his way to attend a conference in Kabul on national reconciliation, a security official said on Saturday. ADVERTISEMENT
More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, but also over 50 U.S. troops, have died in the Taliban-linked insurgency this year, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
Afghanistan: What Will Become Of The Provincial Councils?
Amin Tarzi - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty - November 11, 2005
Afghan voters went to the polls in mid-September to elect representatives to the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the Afghan National Assembly. At the same time, and with a fraction of the international attention afforded the national legislative contests, they picked members of Afghanistan's 34 provincial councils from among some 3,000 candidates.
While the functions of the 249 members of the national People's Council are enumerated to large degree in the country's constitution, the functions of the provincial councils remain largely unclear. Until the duties and authorities of those provincial bodies are more firmly enumerated and their members given official space in which to operate, there is a risk that a potentially effective mechanism for local government might be forever marginalized -- and an opportunity lost.
Both the National Assembly and the provincial councils are expected to begin their work around the beginning of December, after the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) announces the final certified results of the polls, which is expected next week.
Description And Duties
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stipulates in Article 138 that "a provincial council is to be formed" in each of country's 34 provinces that should "take part in securing the developmental targets of the state and improving its affairs in a way stated by law" and give "advice on important issues falling within the domain" of each province.
The article adds that the councils are to perform "their duties in cooperation with the provincial administration."
The JEMB website (http://www.jemb.org) likewise states that the "provincial council will take part in the development and improvement of the province and advise the provincial administration on related issues."
The breakdown of membership of the provincial councils is based on the population of each province, with a requirement that at least one-quarter of the members of each council be women. Provinces with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants will form nine-member councils; provinces with 500,000 to 1 million inhabitants, 15-members councils; provinces with 1 million to 2 million inhabitants, 19-member councils; provinces with 2 million to 3 million, 23-member councils; and provinces with more than 3 million inhabitants will have 29-member councils.
Helping To Fill The Upper Legislature
The provincial councils will have a direct impact on the make-up of the National Assembly, as each of the 34 councils will select one delegate to send to the 102-member upper chamber of the National Assembly, the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga). Moreover, according to the constitution, an additional one-third of the House of Elders is to be selected from the members of district councils. However, the election of those councils has been postponed indefinitely because of disagreements drawing the district boundaries. As a result, the cabinet decided recently to fill the district council seats in the House of Elders temporarily with additional representatives from the provincial councils. Those members should be replaced by district-council representatives as soon as those bodies are formed.
Under the constitution, provincial council members who are selected to join the House of Elders will forfeit their seats on the local body and be replaced by the candidate of the same gender who received the next highest number of votes. According to the cabinet's decision, those provincial-council members who temporarily assume district-council seats in the House of Elders will be temporarily replaced on the provincial councils until they return to the local body.
Short On Detail
Draft papers outlining the responsibilities and powers of the provincial councils were circulated among Kabul's power elite and representatives of donor states through the summer, and the final version was released in August, less than a month before the elections. Most Afghans, therefore, went to the polls on 18 September and voted for provincial council members with little idea of exactly what those councils would be empowered to do. Even in the document that was accepted in August, the outlined responsibilities of the provincial councils remain disturbingly vague.
While much of the attention in Afghanistan has been focused on power plays surrounding the National Assembly, the country's most significant local representative organ -- the provincial council -- is in danger of becoming a marginalized institution. The firmly entrenched positions of many of the country's provincial governors, with whom the councils will have to contend and cooperate, further highlight that risk.
It seems clear that the framers of the Afghan Constitution sought to steer the country toward a highly centralized state. However, if the provincial councils had more a clearly defined role and stronger authorities, they could become a powerful democratic force -- bringing the center into closer contact the periphery and fostering a genuine feeling of connection between average Afghans and the structures of government.
Trans-Afghan gas pipeline project likely in 2006
The News International (Pakistan) / November 11, 2005
ASHGABAT: The construction of a proposed gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan across Afghanistan will start next year, an Afghan minister said on Thursday.
"January, in my opinion, will see the last meeting to find a consortium for the TAP (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) pipeline," Afghan Minister for Mines and Industries Mir Muhammad Sediq told Reuters in an interview. Work would soon start on the $3.6 billion project, Sediq said but gave no details about a completion date, financing plans or likely consortium members.
The project envisages a 1,600km pipeline, which would provide Turkmenistan with a new outlet for its gas. Afghanistan would get transit revenue while Pakistan would get the much-needed energy.
Sediq said the planned pipeline would supply gas from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field for 20 years at a rate of 30 billion cubic metres of annually. "The pipeline could be extended to India," he added and referred to the Asian Development Bank’s estimate that the reserves were more than the needs of Pakistan and India. Currently Turkmenistan exports the bulk of its gas from the 1.7 trillion cubic-metre Dauletabad reserves to Ukraine via a pipeline controlled by Russian gas giant Gazprom.
Eight dead after cargo plane crashes in Afghanistan
Saturday November 12, 1:41 AM
KHAK-E-SHAHIDAN, Afghanistan (AFP) - A cargo jet smashed into mountains near Afghanistan's capital, killing all eight crew on board from Russia, Ukraine and Pakistan, a government official said.
The giant Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft was completely destroyed when it came down near Khak-e-Shahidan village, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) northwest of Kabul, an AFP reporter said.
It was smashed into small, charred pieces, some still burning hours after the crash, the reporter said. Body parts littered the site, including a hand that apparently belonged to a woman.
"All eight people on board are dead," interior ministry official Yousuf Stanizai told AFP.
The dead were five Russians, two Ukrainians and a Pakistani, he said, citing the company which had rented the plane, Pakistan-based Royal Airlines.
The plane was owned by a company called Global Georgian Airlines and hired by Royal Airlines, Stanizai said. It had been travelling from Bagram, the main US base in Afghanistan, to Kabul.
The cause of the crash, which occurred in cloudy weather, was being investigated, Stanizai said. Villagers said there had been smoke coming from the aircraft before it went down.
Another interior ministry official said earlier that security forces at the scene had recovered one body, that of a man who appeared to be "Russian-looking."
A Russian book and coin were also found at the scene, the official said, asking not to be identified.
"The plane hit a mountain. It has crashed and been destroyed completely, smashed into pieces," the ministry official said.
Karachi-based Royal Airlines told AFP that one of its planes had dropped from the radar while flying between Kabul and Bagram, the main base for the US-led military coalition in Afghanistan.
"Usually the plane was used to carry foodstuffs and there was an eight-member crew. It left Kabul airport at 10:30 am for Bagram but it went missing and I don't know the status," managing director Aijaz Faizi told AFP.
"It has been missing for such a long time that it can be assumed it has crashed," he said.
The aircraft was a IL-76 medium transport plane, said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) based in Afghanistan. It immediately sent an evacuation helicopter and rescue teams to the site.
The last major crash of a civilian plane in Afghanistan was in February when all 104 people on board a private Kam Air Boeing 737 were killed when the aircraft came down in mountains 20 kilometres east of Kabul.
The US-led coalition and ISAF forces that have been based in war-ravaged Afghanistan since late 2001 -- when the hardline Taliban government was overthrown -- have suffered several deadly air crashes in this country.
In one of the most serious, a US military helicopter crashed in April in bad weather in southeastern Ghazni province, killing all 18 Americans on board. It was the worst helicopter crash during US operations in Afghanistan.
In August, 17 Spanish soldiers from the ISAF force were killed when their Cougar helicopter crashed near the western city of Herat. Officials said the crash was probably an accident as there were no signs of an attack.
Embassy in Kabul has no data on Russians in Afghan air crash
20:47 | 11/ 11/ 2005
MOSCOW, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Embassy in Kabul said it did not have conclusive information on the presence of Russians on board a cargo plane that crashed about 30 kilometers north of the Afghan capital Friday killing all crewmembers.
"The company that leased the plane said the crew comprised five Russians, but this information has not been confirmed," the embassy said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry was also unable to confirm this information. "The plane's crew included eight people but their nationalities are unknown," a ministry official said.
The Associated Press quoted eyewitnesses as saying Russian magazines and ruble notes had been found among the debris.
Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, the spokesman for the Russian Air Force, said, "The plane has nothing to do with the Russian Air Force. Therefore, there were no Russian military pilots on board."
Five Russians on board plane that crashed in Afghanistan - source
22:06 | 11/ 11/ 2005
PALANGA, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - A source in the Russian Transportation Ministry said Friday there had been five Russians on board the plane that crashed in Afghanistan 12 miles outside the country's capital.
"Out of the eight crewmembers, five were Russian nationals," the source said.
Earlier, an air force spokesman said there had been no Russians aboard the crashed aircraft, and the Russian Embassy in Kabul was not able to confirm the information.
Ambassador shares Afghans' greatest fear
A premature U.S. withdrawal is the thing that worries them most, official tells audience of 200
By Sally Connell / San Luis Obispo Tribune / November 11, 2005
Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States told a crowd of 200 at Cal Poly on Thursday that Afghans fear any talk of the United States leaving the country prematurely.
Said Tayeb Jawad said the country clearly remembers its descent into a Taliban-led world of extremism after the United States disengaged from Afghanistan at the end of the Soviet occupation.
He told the crowd of Cal Poly students, faculty and area residents that the southwest Asian country needs the United States' help to improve its health care system, train its army and police and rebuild infrastructure.
"The biggest concern that Afghans have about the United States' presence in Afghanistan is that the presence might be short lived," he said during an interview before the speech.
Jawad appeared on campus at the special invitation of Maliha Zulfacar, a Cal Poly ethnic studies professor born in Afghanistan, as part of the campus' celebration of International Education Week.
"Cal Poly students really live on a big island," Zulfacar said. "But when students hear about what is going on in other parts of the world, they get concerned, they get involved."
Jawad said that women are dying in childbirth at incredible rates. Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates and the lowest life expectancies of any nation in the world.
But he also said the country has made great strides since the United States went to war in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, the country's former Islamic rulers who had strong ties to terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
Jawad returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after living abroad for 20 years. He was appointed ambassador in 2003 after serving various posts in the government.
Jawad spoke about advancements made in the rights of Afghan women. He said more women are attending school and 29 percent of the Parliament members are women, but there is tremendous catching up to do.
"You can provide all the rights you want to in a constitution for women," he said. "But that won't do enough unless you provide education to the women, enable the women to have an income."
Zulfacar met with Cal Poly President Warren Baker and Jawad and asked Baker to support the idea of two English-speaking Afghan women studying engineering at Cal Poly, fulfilling their lifelong dream.
"We said we'd help to see that gets done," Baker said after Jawad's speech.
Fire at Balkh University
(Arman-e-Milli) A fire broke out in the agriculture faculty of Balkh Universitym northern Afghanistan, on November 9, damaging part of the building. Informed only hours later, the authorities were able to prevent the fire spreading to other parts of the building. Security officials in Balkh province say the blaze was started by a shortcircuit.
(Arman-e-Milli is an independent daily run by a group of journalists.)
via Afghan Press Monitor (No 191, 10 Nov 05) - published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Major road improvement projects near completion
November 11, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Two major road improvement projects in Afghanistan , costing more than $3.5 million, are near completion.
The first of these projects, which connects the eastern Afghanistan cities of Sharana and Orgun-E, is scheduled for completion the first week of December. This road is more than 55-kilometers long and costs an estimated $1.9 million. Workers widened the road, leveled the surface and installed drainage systems.
The second road project, also in southern Afghanistan , connects Qalat and Shinkay. It should be completed in December at a cost of more than $1.5 million. This 64-kilometer road improvement project also includes the installation of drainage systems, a new layer of gravel and widening the road’s surface.
More than 600 Afghan contractors and laborers have worked on the two projects.
“While this will improve the security situation for the government of Afghanistan , it’s important to note that there will be numerous other benefits associated with these roads,” said Army Col. Michael Flanagan, Task Force Sword commander. “Economic opportunities are created when these roads are constructed, farmers can find winter markets for their goods and merchants can seek more competitive prices for their products. People in these areas will also find that emergency service vehicles and personnel are better able to respond to different situations. Roads that are navigable and are open through all kinds of weather are a keystone to prosperity and security.”
Daily Afghan Report
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty - November 10, 2005
Al-Qaeda Reportedly Appoints Commanders For Afghanistan
Al-Qaeda has appointed two Arabs as field commanders for southeast and southwest areas of Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 9 November, based on video that the news agency acquired from Peshawar, Pakistan. According to the report, Khaled Habib has been put in charge of southeastern provinces while Abd al-Hadi Iraqi has been assigned to the southwestern provinces of Afghanistan. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iraqi was commander of foreign fighters in the country and he later commanded Arab fighters in northern Afghanistan's Takhar Province against the United Front (Northern Alliance). Habib, who is reportedly from Morocco, also commanded Arab fighters during the Taliban's rule. AT
Trial For Drug Traffickers Begins In Kabul
The Afghan Interior Ministry announced in a 9 November press release that preliminary proceedings for three members of a "major drug trafficking organization" began on 9 November at a Public Security Court in Kabul. The three unidentified men were arrested in 2004 by the Afghan Counternarcotics Police and have been charged with "various drug-trafficking crimes." Beyond distribution of heroin inside Afghanistan, the suspects allegedly had agreed to export 200 kilograms of heroin to the United States. Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud Daud, said that this "is a transparent example to anyone involved in the drug business that they will no longer be able to act with impunity in Afghanistan." The case is a rare example of Afghanistan openly putting on trial suspects involved in the illegal narcotics business. AT
Pakistan And India To Back Afghanistan's Bid For SAARC Membership
Pakistani Foreign Minister Kurshid Kasuri said on 9 November in Karachi that his country will "strongly support" Afghanistan's admission into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Kasuri, who was on his way to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to attend the 26th session of the SAARC Council of Ministers, said that it was his privilege as the chairman of the meeting to propose admitting Afghanistan as a full-fledged member. Indian External Affairs Minister E. Ahmed, who will represent his country at the meeting, also indicated on 8 November that his country will "welcome" Afghanistan as a SAARC member, Dhaka's "The Daily Star" reported on 9 November. SAARC was established in 1985 and includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as members. AT
Pakistan Arrests Illegal Afghan Refugees In Waziristan
Pakistani forces on 8 November arrested an estimated 50 Afghan refugees in North Waziristan, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 9 November. The arrests come a day after North Waziristan authorities issued a 24-hour deadline for those Afghan refugees still in the area to leave the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005). The arrested refugees have been given the choice of either crossing into Afghanistan or resettling in other areas of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan's measures against Afghan refugees in restive North Waziristan -- which borders Afghanistan -- are part of Islamabad's counterterrorism campaign. AT
EDITORIAL: North Afghanistan could feed the whole country
via Afghan Press Monitor (No 192, 11 Nov 05) - published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting
(The Kabul Times, November 10, 2005) Afghanistan is an agricultural country with 75 per cent of its population engaged in farming and animal husbandry. The country is broadly divided in two by the Hindu Kush range, the northern part being more fertile and less rugged than the south. Unfortunately, however, insufficient attention has been paid to boosting agriculture in the northern half of the country, probably because of the perception that the northerners produce Karakul pelts, carpets, oil-seeds and grains, while the poor inhabitants of the south live hand to mouth and thus deserve more attention. Another consideration is industrialisation in parts of the north, tor instance, the mills and the cement factory at Pul-e-Khumri, the sugar refinery at Baghlan, the oil refinery and soap plants in Kunduz, and oil refineries, machine tools and raisin-processing plants in Mazar-e-Sharif are a few examples. However, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the last 23 years of civil war, during which thieves posing as mujahedin dismantled valuable machines and sold the parts for scrap in Pakistan. The oil refinery in Kunduz and the cement plant at Pul-e-Khumri have reportedly resumed production, but little is known about the others.
(The Kabul Times is a state-run paper published in English every other day.)
Afghanistan: Musicians Struggling To Revive Classical Heritage After Taliban
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Decades of war and the Taliban's five-year ban on music took their toll on Afghan classical music. Musicians have been trying to resuscitate the art since the end of Taliban rule. But they face serious economic and artistic challenges -- including the threat of possible attack by Taliban fighters if they perform in provincial areas. Through interviews and field recordings, RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz has documented attempts to revive Afghan music since the collapse of the Taliban regime nearly four years ago.
Prague, 11 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Three warring Afghan militia factions in Wardak Province put their disputes aside long enough in early 2002 to celebrate a feast together in the district of Chak.
Hundreds gathered to hear the first performance there of Afghanistan's national dance, the "Atan-i-Mili," since the Taliban silenced music five years earlier.
But only one elderly musician was found to play a double-sided Afghan drum called a dhol. There were no others to play the complex rhythmical counterpoints of the dance. And there was no one to play the traditional melody on the raspy, flute-like surnai. It was a sparse sound testifying to the state of music in southern Afghanistan immediately after Taliban rule.
Instead, militia fighters fired their AK-47s to the drumbeat in the way Western DJs use old records to perform "scratch" rhythms.
Within two years, after many Afghan musicians returned from lives as refugees in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, the sound of a full group playing the Atan-i-Mili would be common in Afghanistan again.
Life today remains difficult and dangerous for Afghan musicians. An ethnic Turkmen singer named Quarab Nazar was gunned down recently along with six of his backing group after performing at a wedding party in northern Jowzjan Province. Police say the attackers were Taliban fighters. The Taliban also is blamed for other recent attacks against musicians in the south and east of the country.
Still, classical Afghan musicians want to breath life back into their heritage after decades of war and repression.
Afghan music is an oral tradition. Students can trace the lineage of their knowledge through their teachers directly to the ancient masters. Folk melodies and the poetry of the ancient Afghan royal courts merged with elements of northern India's classical music in the 1860s when Afghan ruler Amir Sher Ali Khan brought Hindustani masters to Kabul as court musicians. So Hindustani and Afghan music are cousins, but with their own unique characteristics.
As an oral tradition, young Afghan musicians are meant to take tutelage for years under a single master -- an "ustad," whose pupils become their legacy.
Those oral traditions were uprooted along with the millions of Afghans displaced by war and factional fighting during the 1980s and '90s. Ustads and their students were separated as they joined the throngs of refugees fleeing to Pakistan or Iran. Musicians who remained in Afghanistan faced repression by some mujahedin factions as early as 1992. The Taliban broadened the restrictions into a total ban against performing or listening to music.
One classical master who stayed in Afghanistan through all those years is Attiqullah Sangin. Now in his late 50s, he has played an Afghan lute -- called a rabab -- since he was 12 years old.
Considered the national instrument of Afghanistan, the rabab was the lute of the ancient royal courts. Its neck and body are carved from a single piece of hollowed wood. A tiny ivory or camel bone bridge rests on the face of the instrument, which is covered with the skin of a goat.
As a teenager, Sangin studied under Afghanistan's most famous 20th-century rabab virtuoso -- Ustad Mohammad Omar. Ustad Omar died in 1980 without witnessing the havoc wreaked against Afghan music. Sangin now is among a handful of musicians who carried direct knowledge from the revered rabab master through those turbulent times. He says the Taliban era was the most difficult as an artist.
"They would certainly punish me if they found out I was practicing or even listening to recordings," Sangin said. "Most of our musicians and singers went to Pakistan and Iran during those years. Fewer people remained here in Afghanistan. So we were not thinking much about music anymore. The Taliban had stopped music -- even in the context of [improvisational religious performances]."
Sangin watched the Taliban's "morality and virtue" police lock musicians into metal cargo containers because of their musical training. He says the Taliban would not hesitate to kill a musician caught performing or practicing an instrument.
"It was very hard for me. Music is like fire. If you just keep blowing air onto it, it will be fresh. Otherwise, it will soon die out," Sangin said. "During the whole five years, I left my rabab hanging from an arch. I couldn't play it [publicly] because I was afraid. My entire house had been destroyed [in earlier fighting]. We were staying in another house that we had rented. So it was impossible to practice [in that building without the risk of being punished]."
Still, Sangin says his need to play music was so strong that he sometimes risked death in order to practice in secluded places.
"Secretly I used to play. You know, one can't just practice rabab in only five minutes," Sangin said. "It is an instrument that requires a lot of practice -- at least an hour or so at a time. Anyway, I was practicing sometimes. But only in secrecy so that I would not get into any trouble."
The rabab Sangin now plays is a masterpiece of workmanship that narrowly escaped destruction by the Taliban. It is one of just three instruments from the old Radio Kabul collection that was not smashed by the Taliban. It was hidden -- literally buried beneath the ground for years -- along with a harmonium and a dhol that also survived.
Mohammad Rasul was a production engineer at Radio Kabul when the Taliban destroyed the other instruments -- including an expensive piano that had been rebuilt by an Afghan master craftsman during the 1960s.
By keeping secret his skills and aspirations as a classically trained tambur player, he managed to keep his job when the Taliban transformed Radio Kabul into the Voice of Shari'a.
"At that time, I used to record songs without instruments -- national Islamic songs. So I worked here [for Voice of Shari'a]," Rasul said. "I didn't become a refugee. I didn't go anywhere. So I stayed here. I've done my work under any regime -- any government. It is my country. I'm not afraid of anything except God. I have served my country and my people."
Rasul practices the song "Let's Go to Mazar, Mullah Momad Jan" on his tambur in the former Radio Kabul studios, now owned by Radio Afghanistan. The instrument is similar in size and shape to a sitar. But on closer examination, rather than the raised metal frets of an Indian sitar, the tambur's frets are fashioned from strands of animal gut tied around the neck.
Like a sitar, there are also about dozen "sympathetic" strings. They are tuned to the traditional Afghan melody and vibrate without being touched, ringing from the harmonic overtones within the resonating chamber.
Rasul wears a metal plectrum on his right index finger to pluck the main melody strings using a technique similar to a sitar player.
Listen RealAudio Mohammad Rasul playing "Let's Go to Mazar, Mullah Momad Jan" on tambur (full length)
Sangin the rabab master recalls a feeling of disbelief when he got together with other musicians to play for the first time after the collapse of the Taliban.
"The first thing I did was to shave my beard. We had all been forced to grow long beards under the Taliban," Sangin said. "Then, three days after the Taliban left Kabul, I went to the studios of Kabul Radio. I found out that [the singer] Aziz Gaznawi was the head of the radio. And there was Nairez and Mudeer Rasool. Altogether, there were about five or six people there -- [and four of us were musicians.] We started to perform for some radio programs. It was like dreaming. When we first sat in front of a microphone, we thought we were still dreaming. Four musicians playing together! We felt like we were coming back to life again!"
Sangin says the freedom to play music has rekindled interest in the rabab among young Afghans. But he is concerned about the future of other classical Afghan traditions.
"Right now, the situation with musicians is very good [compared to the time of the Taliban]. But we don't have enough singers," Sangin said. "Those singers we had have become old. Many of our ustads have died. Our [traditional] music is not getting any encouragement. Young people are mostly interested in Western music. They are not very interested in our [traditional] music."
He is especially concerned about the future in Afghan music of an instrument called the dilruba -- a bowed string instrument with a haunting, mournful sound.
"We no longer have many masters. So many ustads have died," Sangin said. "Some of them left [the country and have not returned]. We only have one master dilruba player in Afghanistan right now, and he is old. When he dies, all that [knowledge] will be lost."
Some of the old masters who survived by moving to the West are returning to pass on their knowledge. Among them is the famous tabla player Ustad Mohammad Asef. He is in his 60s and has lived in London for the past 14 years. Now, he has returned to his homeland to teach music for one year at Kabul University. Younger musicians also are returning with music they studied in places like Peshawar, Pakistan.
But many find their houses have been destroyed. And the income for musicians in Afghanistan often is barely enough to pay rent.
One man from a musical family who has found success in Kabul after returning from Pakistan is Ahmad Shah Ayubi. He is the son of the late Ustad Mohammad Ayubi -- a famous Afghan harmonium maker from Kabul who rebuilt the piano at Radio Kabul that was eventually destroyed by the Taliban.
Ahmad Shah Ayubi continues his father's trade -- building and repairing harmoniums and other instruments at a shop he set up recently in the mostly destroyed musician's quarter of Kabul's old city. He says the repair business has been particularly good in the aftermath of the Taliban.
"I have repaired maybe 500 harmoniums here [in Kabul] and in Pakistan," Ayubi said. "I was in Pakistan [until] two years ago. Most people took their harmoniums with them to Pakistan [when they left Afghanistan]. So I repaired them there. And when we returned from Pakistan, I opened this shop here [in Kabul.] I like my business. And most Afghan people like music -- especially the harmonium."
Ayubi's confidence in the future is bolstered by the presence of his oldest son at the shop. His son is learning in the traditional way about harmoniums and other instruments -- and he is absorbing the classical Afghan melodies that his father plays.
(Mustafa Sediqi of RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this story from Kabul and Prague. Photographs by Ron Synovitz)
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